Toomas Hendrik Ilves: There is no need to use paper ballots in the digital era


In the panel discussion at the Conference and Table-Top Exercise “Securing elections in digital era”, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Former President of Estonia, highlighted the need to trust and use technology more in conducting elections in the digital era.

„To conduct secure elections, we should turn our focus to two-factor authentification, end-to-end encryption, and to the use of distributed ledgers for data integrity. All these methods are availible – there is no need to use paper ballots in the digital era,“ said Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Photo: Backstage of the Conference


In his keynote, Oliver Kask, Head of the National Electoral Committee of Estonia noted that already today it is not possible to conduct elections without digital technologies. “The possibilities to use digital technologies widens every month, every week. We would not get the best out of IT solutions if we don’t start to find means how to implement those possibilities we already have right now. We have to consider the safety of those solutions still under construction,” he said.

Talking about the trust towards digital technologies, Oliver Kask said that internet voting is one of the indicators of trust in the digital technologies in Estonia. “Internet voting has been applied in Estonia since 2005 and has steadily gained popularity. It is related to the general trust toward state digital services,” said Kask.

Photo: Oliver Kask is giving the keynote


Kask highlighted that even there haven’t been any cyber incidents regarding Internet voting in Estonia, the Estonian Electoral Committee has implemented a list of measures, and updates it constantly, to be sure that all results of Internet voting are transparent and not hacked.

In the panel discussion, Liisa Past, Head of Cyber Security Business Development at Cybernetica, pointed out that in the elections the fundamental question is about delegating the trust. “Delegating trust to the complex mathematics is hard, it is easier to trust institutions,” Past said. According to her, for that reason technology is sometimes underestimated to guarantee voting integrity.

Photo: Liisa Past and Merle Maigre on the panel session


“The most important element of voting is making sure that each voter’s political will is accurately recorded and that they also believe it is accurately recorded, regardless of whether they vote using pen and paper, postal voting or internet voting,” she said.

Additionally, the Director of International Policy at the Cyber Policy Centre at Stanford University, Marietje Schaake emphasised that the legitimacy of the digital voting process depends on the general trust that society has towards the government. “Technology itself will not replace the lack of trust,” she said. In the discussion about misinformation, she also highlighted the role social media platforms have in public debates. “The lack of transparency of big tech companies is not helping with the oversight of elections, if they create a platform and conditions for public debate; there are not clear safeguards and rules in place on campaign financing, transparency and accountability,” said Schaake.

Marina Kaljurand, Member of the European Parliament said that politicians should be involved more in digital discussions, “so that they would feel more comfortable with digital topics”.

The Conference and Table-Top Exercise aimed to raise awareness on how to secure elections in the digital era and share Estonia’s expertise on the field. In the event core election organisers, as well as the personnel from political think tanks that are monitoring elections and helping political parties, from 55 countries participated.

The Conference featured former President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Director of International Policy at the Cyber Policy Centre at Stanford University Marietje Schaake, the Member of European Parliament Marina Kaljurand, the Head of the National Electoral Committee of Estonia Oliver Kask, the Head of Cyber Security Business Development at Cybernetica Liisa Past, the Professor of e-Governance at Tallinn University of Technology Robert Krimmer, the Senior Cyber Security Expert at e-Governance Academy Merle Maigre and the cyber and strategic leadership experts from CybExer Technologies – Lauri Almann and Kari-Pekka Rannikko.

The conference was organised by e-Governance Academy, CybExer Technologies, the Estonian National Electoral Committee, Microsoft and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

The discussions are available for re-watch on the e-Governance Academy’s Facebook page

For more information visit the conference website ega.ee/cyberconf2020.